1940s Archive

Night of Lobster

Originally Published September 1946

It is a pleasant thing to spend a night with a Maine lobstering man. It is especially pleasant when the man is deep in lobsters. I spent a night with one just this fall. It was a night I shall always remember.

A friend of mine and I went along together. This friend is a most particular one. He hails from Oregon and the other coast. But that is nothing against him. With his attainment of maturity, he has adopted Maine as his proper place. He is one of the thousands of artists who have recently done so. Artists are wise people. They know which side their bread is buttered on. This friend of mine makes the loveliest handmade books this side of the fourteenth century. Just to make sure the whole of his creation is good, he writes the prose and poetry that go into his hand-tooled covers. He is one of the best poets alive now.

This man is also an Old Blue of Oxford. In case you do not know what an Old Blue is, I can say he is just a half step down from one of the major gods on Olympus. He is one who wears the dark blue of Oxford University for having represented the University against Cambridge in an athletic contest. This friend made his Blue in that peculiarly American and Indian game from up Wisconsin way, part mere massacre, part pure brain, part sword-dance, and good part poetry, which is played at its most spectacular best in England—lacrosse. The man has an international standing in this sport.

This friend is also, in odd moments, an excavator of English abbeys and human nature, friend of British prime ministers and artists. He is also an authority on most medieval arts and crafts, on the great medieval church, on carving and stained glass—which he can make in the medieval manner—on tennis and an excellent player at it, on Herrick, and on Maine quahogs. He also happens to be one of the best storytellers living. But he wasn't telling stories this evening. He was eating lobsters, with this lobstering man I speak of, and with me.

This lobsterman is probably my friend's sole rival in that ancient art of storytelling. He is one of the few survivors of that race of oral storymakers who used to live along the Maine coast. I believe he is one of the best of the race. He is, like most Maine coast men and my friend, the Old Blue poet, a decidedly all-round man. Besides catching lobsters, he paints in oils and water colors, does wood carving with his jackknife. His dolphins and mermaids, both single-tailed and double, his full-rigged ships, anchors and rope, carved on pine sea chests, have made him well known and taken his name over New England. A master storyteller he is. But this evening he wasn't telling stories, either. He was after lobsters. He was purely and simply a fisher and an eater of them. So he kept quiet, like my friend, the poet. They both kept quiet.

The fisherman, I noticed, brought along a huge tomato-can he had put a bail in, when he came down to his dory. What was that for? Oh, he guessed we might have use for it. We got in and pushed off.

We rowed down the long bay I used to row as a boy on my saltwater farm—or rather, the lobsterman rowed. He was fishing his string of traps tonight by oar-power. It was four miles he rowed, steady as a clock, quiet. I wanted to spell him on the oars. The poet wanted to. We had both pulled a fair oar on our college crew at Oxford. But this lobstering man would not let us. This was our vacation. We should rest. The man rowed as he breathed, without effort. He had just finished an eight-hour shift at the Bath Iron Works, making destroyers for the American Navy. This was his way of resting.

The herons were taking their stations for the night, indistinct on the mud flats. It gloomed and darkened. The mighty two-hundred-foot cliffs of the shore faded into the few bright stars. Other stars came out, blurry with September softness, over the jagged spruce skyline along each side of us. I could see nothing at last but the glow of my friend's and the lobsterman's cigarettes. The tide, as it rose, made dim and sweet sounds around us. We moved gently on through whispers like eternity. The oars creaked in the tholepins. The oar sounds and the tide's sounds went beautifully together. A fresh little night breeze came up from nowhere and lapped us round. The fragrance of the balsams on the shore mingled in with the smell of the sea. We floated gently on.

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